Very befittingly, the final parsha of the most family-centric book of Chamishei Chumshei Torah is filled with family themes and episodes.
I. One of the many episodes, is the famous blessing of Ephraim and Menasheh; the same blessing that parents traditionally give to their children on Friday night. It is the only textual narrative in B’reishit describing interaction between grandparent and grandchild.
A blessing of grandchildren (Ephraim and Menasheh) is the paradigm for blessings that children receive on Friday night because the parent is hoping that the child will carry on this tradition (along with many others) to their own children one day. It is a blessing that highlights the importance of being connected to family and to our mesorah.
On the subject of continuing tradition and talmud torah, Rav Baruch Simon quotes the Chofetz Chaim explaining the bracha of Yaakov Avinu to Yissachar, comparing him to a donkey (but in a nice way) (49:14-15):
יִשָּׂשכָר חֲמֹר גָּרֶם רֹבֵץ בֵּין הַמִּשְׁפְּתָיִם
וַיַּרְא מְנֻחָה כִּי טוֹב וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ כִּי נָעֵמָה וַיֵּט שִׁכְמוֹ לִסְבֹּל וַיְהִי לְמַס עֹבֵד
The Chofetz Chaim quotes Avodah Zara 5b in which Tanna D’bei Eliyahu says: “In order to study the words of the Torah one must cultivate in oneself the [habit of] the ox for bearing a yoke and of the donkey for carrying burdens.”
He explains that the ox has the brute strength to plow the fields and make the ground ready to produce fruit. The donkey brings the food from the field into the home. He analogizes this to Torah study; at first one needs to put in a great deal of effort to sit down with a sefer, struggle with it and understand it. After that, one needs to immerse one’s self in it and ingrain it in him or herself, chazzer it and review it many times over, so as not to forget it. The praise of the bnei Yissachar is that they continue learning, immersing and ingraining in their children the words of Torah.
Divrei HaYamim I 12:33 says:
וּמִבְּנֵי יִשָּׂשכָר יוֹדְעֵי בִינָה לַעִתִּים
This could be understood that the bnei Yissachar had understanding of the times – not just how to calculate the moadim, etc. – but also how to transmit Torah through the years, through our history, making Torah a central part of our lives in each generation.
Back to the subject of Yaakov’s bracha to his grandchildren, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin points out in his book, Unlocking the Torah Text, that Ephraim and Menasheh are the first major set of brothers in the Torah whose relationship does not end in conflict and strife. (Despite the great love between Yosef and Binyamin, Binyamin was a member of a larger set of siblings that fought with Yosef). From Kayin and Hevel, to Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Eisav, and of course Yosef and his brothers, the Torah records the tragic trend of brotherly division and discord. However, even when Ephraim gets the first bracha, ahead of his older brother Menasheh, there is no evidence of quarrel between these brothers. They are a model of brotherly love and harmony, and it is this ideal state of shalom that we pray for at the outset of Shabbos.
II. Another family-oriented theme is found when Yaakov requests that Yosef bury him in Me’arat HaMachpeilah (MHM), and then mentions Rachel’s final resting place. It is the theme of a mother’s undying love for her children. Yaakov recalls the death and burial of Rachel and explains that she was buried “along the road,” and not in MHM. Rashi quotes the famous p’sukim from Yirmiyahu 31:14-16:
קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע
רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל-בָּנֶיה…
כִּי יֵשׁ שָׂכָר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ נְאֻם ה’…
וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם…
Rashi explains that Rachel was buried there because she would play a pivotal role in the eventual redemption of our people. Hashem had showed Yaakov, prophetically, that the Jewish people would be led in to captivity by Nebuchadnezzar’s army along the route of Rachel’s tomb after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. When Rachel’s soul witnesses her descendants being driven into exile, she would go out, so to speak, and would cry and seek mercy for them. Hashem promises that in her merit, He will indeed return her children to their homeland.
The Torah uses the peculiar phrasing of “meitah alai Rachel”
Perhaps two other linked explanations, is that Yaakov is saying that Rachel died in that place, “on” Yaakov, for a specific purpose, but she only died in a limited sense…
A) Purposeful Resting Place: Watchful Mother in Exile: Rachel died and gave up the privilege of being buried with her husband and the other Avos and Imahos, for the sake of Yaakov and his descendants, so that she could be as close as possible to her children in their time of need. She did this FOR Yaakov, as his benevolent, parental counterpart. As a parent and a Patriarch, he would undoubtedly want a great person to be watching over his descendants at the time of their exile, but it was not his tafkid to do for his children; it was uniquely Rachel’s. She died as the quintessential mother who makes physical and spiritual sacrifices, as all mothers do, for the sake of their children.
B) A Limited Death: Deceased Wife, Eternal Mother: “Alai” is being used as a limiting word: At the time Rachel died she was lost to Yaakov, and it was only Yaakov who felt the loss as a husband. But she was not gone forever. Her time as a living, breathing wife to Yaakov had expired, but she would pray for his children, as a meilitz yosher in the olam ha’emet, for all time.
To take this a step further, in Judaism, men generally need to seek Divine connection through overt spiritual experiences and with the aid of sanctified objects. Men are bound by more obligations, need teffilin to help them attain the proper levels of spirituality for tefilah, etc. Women, in contrast, being the cornerstone of the home, are exempt from certain commandments so they can better occupy their time with the spiritual and material well-being of their families. For this reason a child’s status as a Jew is defined by the mother, whereas tribal affiliation within the Jewish community – the child’s specific role within the Jewish people – is determined by the father’s lineage. Our “Jewish nature” relates to the essence of the soul, and women are far more innately in tune with the neshama than men. Our specific roles, in contrast, relate to revealed spiritual experience, which is primarily man’s realm.
Rachel could be buried in such a seemingly mundane place, like the side of the road, and still fulfill her tafkid, without being laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of Me’arat Hamachpeilah. She had the natural ability to uplift any sphere she occupied. She was chosen to sacrifice the comfort of being buried beside her beloved husband because of her deep concern for the welfare of her children; she did this to be as close to us as possible, on Derech Beit Lechem, in our most frightening and difficult times of literal (Babylonian) exile and through our continued exile…praying for the arrival of Mashiach and the promise of v’shavu banim li’gvulam, b’meheira b’yameinu.
[Based in part on Imrei Baruch: Breishis, maimar gimmel]
1. Rashi of course notices this and gives the explanation that because man was created in the image of Hashem, and the angels would therefore be jealous of man, Hashem consulted with the angels to teach the trait of derech eretz and humility, to make the angels feel part of the process. The most Supreme, All-knowing Being consulted with His “court”, as Rashi puts it, to teach us that a more elevated person can still learn from his subordinate.
2. The Yismach Moshe (R’ Moshe Teitlebaum zt”l) has a different understanding of the plural form of na’aseh, and explains the verb not just as a past “idea” Hashem shared with us and then carried out, but a continuing directive, that we humans are Hashem’s partner, k’viyachol, in the creation of what Man ought to be. Hashem created everything that comprises a human being, from biochemical inner workings to mental capacity to the spiritual neshama. However, we were each given bechira chofsheet and must USE all that Hashem created and gave to us. If we don’t, then we’re merely silos of unrealized potential. Every day we wake up and come closer to fulfilling our tafkid and realizing our potential, we are participating in creation and Hashem’s intention for “נעשה”
Hashem gave us the keys, and we must maximize our strengths to participate in נעשה אדם i.e “be a man” and make something of ourselves, together with siyata dishmaya.
As an extension of this second explanation, many meforshim note that after the creation of all the species on the 5th day, the Torah writes “And Hashem saw that it was good” – “Ki tov”.
Rav Yosef Albo explains that when an insect or a tree is created, it is possible to say ‘It is good’. Concerning every creation in the world it is possible to say ‘It is good’ because when an animal is created it has basically reached perfection. We don’t expect much more more from that animal.
The Gemara in Berachos 17a says that when the Tannaim used to depart from each other, they gave themselves a blessing: “You should see your world in your lifetime” (Olamecha tireh b’chayecha). Rabbi Frand shared an explanation he heard from Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l. He said the word ‘Olamecha’ (“your world”) comes from the root he’elem = that which is hidden; that which has not yet reached its potential.
The blessing of “Olamecha tireh b’chayecha” was that they should be able to see their own potential in their lifetime. The blessing was, that with Hashem’s partnering assistance of na’aseh, let us be able to say about you, ki tov – to see in our friends the unique potential that we each posses.
Many mephorshim pick up on this seemingly odd phrasing; first, the passuk already tells us that the blessings will come to us, so why do we need another verb to tell us that we’ll be receiving blessing, and second, v’hisigucha, is most commonly translated as ‘overtaken’ or ‘captured’ – aggressive verbs we don’t typically associate with blessings.
2. Rav Tzaddok HaKohen suggests that Moshe is giving us a bracha of anivus. An abundance of blessings and kindness from Hashem is wonderful, but we can’t let it alter who we are (for the bad), or blind us to forget our ideals and the truly important aspects of life. To quote, V’hisigucha is saying“vhisigucha bimkomcha“ = to keep you in your place; the place where you were before the blessings started pouring in. Newly-attained wealth should change and increase our tzeddaka-giving practices, but not change us into a haughty, unappreciative, ostentatious, egomaniac.
3. Rav Yisroel (Taub, I believe) of Modzitz understands v’hisigucha in terms of hasaga – mentalcomprehension and knowledge.
4. Finally, a related idea that came to mind is something I once heard explaining the difference between bracha and schar. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between a blessing and reward…
A bracha, on the other hand is an ENABLER. It is a gift from Hashem that the recipient of the bracha is supposed to use to do enrich the world; a bracha is something you are supposed to harness and utilize for something great. The message being, take the blessings referred to by Moshe and Hashem, and let them ‘take you over,’ empowering us with the G-d-given abilities and skills to positively affect others and the world around us.
In the Haftara for the second Shabbat of Bein HaMeitzarim (Masei, this year) we read from Sefer Yirmiyahu. 2:13 states:
Acting as a conduit of Hashem’s words, Yirmiyahu tells Bnei Yisrael that not only have they abandoned Hashem, but they have done so in favor of “broken cisterns” — foreign nations and empty beliefs that offer no meaning, benefit or security.
Rav Hirsch suggests that this spelling accurately reflects Am Yisrael’s misguided perspective, decried by Yirmiyahu. A bor/pit is an empty, vacuous hole in the ground. A be’eir, by contrast, is a hole that contains something of value and substance, namely water. Yirmiyahu is bemoaning the fact that Bnei Yisrael tragically looked upon borot – worthless, hollow beliefs – as be’eirot – things of substance and meaning. The word borot is spelled in such a way that it externally resembles the word be’eirot, alluding to the misplaced perception of value and significance that attracted Bnei Yisrael to people and ideas that were actually vacuous and valueless.
During the Three Weeks, it is particularly important to distinguish between those things that may be attractive but have little value, and those that have true meaning and help us draw closer to Hashem and the ultimate Geulah. The value assigned by society or pop culture to what are essentially empty borot, can often give the deceptive appearance of being be’eirot. It is during this difficult, painful and introspective time of Bein HaMeitzarim, that we have the opportunity to correct our ways, and appreciate the value, dedicate the time and carefully distinguish between borot and be’eirot; between that which is empty and worthless, and that which is meaningful and precious.
I would like to humbly suggest a connection between be’eirot, geulah and Miriam HaNeviah:
Rav Yossi bar Yehuda, in Ta’anis 9a, says that the gift of the “traveling” well that Bnei Yisrael were afforded in the desert, was in the merit of Miriam. What was it about Miriam’s life or actions that precipitated this miracle? Although the Torah does not provide lengthy narratives about Miriam’s life, we find her at two extremely pivotal moments, both connected to water:
She girds her loins with strength, and makes strong her arms.
After Krias Yam Suf — i.e. looming waters that once stood between their enemies and their freedom — Miriam bursts forward in song and praise, rejoicing that those who enslaved her people were vanquished, and they were now on the path to receive the Torah and enter Eretz Yisrael.
Perhaps symbolically, when one is in need of water and digs a hole in the ground, there is no promise that water will be discovered. Sometimes there is nothing but dirt and an empty hole. Sometimes we finally discover wells, but they get sabotaged by Plishtim (as Yitzchak Avinu encountered in Breishis 26:15-33. Parenthetically, Yitzchak establishes Be’er Sheva at the end of this section, and so: Sometimes you set up cities named after wells “ad hayom hazeh,” and it is the target of constant missile attacks…).
But instead of losing hope, or filling that figurative hole or disappointing void in one’s life with other empty beliefs or objects, we are to follow in Miriam HaNeviah’s footsteps and continue searching for a be’eir of water, for mayim chayim (Torah), in song and dance, and ultimately merit Yishayahu’s prophecy:
[Based on a combination of ma’amarim from the sefer, Imrei Baruch: Terumah, ma’amarim ה and ז ]
One of many lessons that can be learned from the Kruvim, described in this week’s Parsha, is the importance of respecting differing method of avodas Hashem.
As an intro, there is a relevant question asked by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l: Why was the institution of the flags for each tribe, described in detail in Parshat Bamidbar, not incorporated until the second year from when BNY left Egypt?
He answers, that the unique tribal flags could only exist properly after the Mishkan was erected. Each shevet had its own way of serving Hashem. The Ramban explains that the reason the Torah lists out every Nasi from every shevet and the korban each one brought for the Channukat HaMizbeach, despite the fact that all the korbanot for each Nasi were exactly the same in form, is because each one had a slightly differentkavana when they brought the korban. For example, the Nasi of Yehuda had kavanaregarding kingship; Yissachar for Torah study; Zevulun for commerce, etc. Each tribe served Hashem in different ways and using different skills and traits.
Hashem knew that it would be dangerous to divide the tribes under different flags/colors before a centralized symbol of service of Hashem was established. And along came the Mishkan to fill that role, in Nissan of the second year. Before the Mishkan, a brand new nation, partitioned under 12 different flags could easily slip into quarreling and fighting over which shevet’s method, motto or style was the correct way of serving Hashem. Once the Mishkan was in place, however – serving as a reminder to every member of every shevet that the key to how they lived was to follow the word of Hashem and serve Him – then it was safe for the shvatim to begin identifying themselves by their own unique style. They could do this while always keeping in mind the broad national responsibility and loyalty. Symbolic of this equality, is the fact that the tribes set up their flags in a circle around the Mishkan, with no preferential treatment.
Two features of the Kruvim demonstrate this idea of the importance of respecting methods of avodas Hashem that may differ from our personal style:
1. The Kruvim faced each other: Shmot 25:20 says:
וְהָיוּ הַכְּרֻבִים פֹּרְשֵׂי כְנָפַיִם לְמַעְלָה סֹכְכִים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם עַל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת
וּפְנֵיהֶם אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו אֶל הַכַּפֹּרֶת יִהְיוּ פְּנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים
And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be.
Facing each other is a sign of respect, and acknowledgment that each person canlearn from the other. Furthermore, the Kruvim were placed in the Kodesh HaKedashim,which was covered with the skins of very special animals: Shmot 26:14:
עֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים מִלְמָעְלָה
Rashi explains that the techash was a type of animal that only existed during the time of the Mishkan, and its skin was full of many colors. The colorful skin of the techashsignifies the many ways one can properly serve Hashem.
2. The Kruvim had the faces of children: a sign of innocence, free of any concept of competition, grandeur or entitlement.
…So how can we achieve this level of respect for our fellow Jews and ovdei Hashem? One suggestion is to follow the famous maxim in Pirkei Avos 1:6: “Yehoshua ben Perachya omer – Asei lecha Rav v’kanei lecha chaveir. V’havei dan et kol adam l’kaf zechut.”
What is the connection between (i) getting for yourself a Rav and a friend, and (ii) giving people the benefit of the doubt?
If you don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, then you’ll think that person is acting improperly and want to divorce yourself from them. There may be times that your Rav or your friend is doing something that doesn’t seem correct. In fact, there are times when they may actually be incorrect. But don’t think that your friend has to always be perfect, or that they must do exactly as you do in order to be worthy of your respect. Don’t think that we are in a place to judge. Rabbi Sacks, in his Letters to the Next Generation, writes, Be very slow indeed to judge others. If they are wrong, G-d will judge them. If we are wrong, G-d will judge us…Always seek out the friendship of those who are strong where you are weak. None of us has all the virtues. Even a Moses needed an Aaron. The work of a team, a partnership, a collaboration with others who have different gifts or different ways of looking at things, is always greater than any one individual can achieve alone… The righteous see the good in people; the self-righteous see the bad.”
If there is mutual respect among us, then we put ourselves in the greatest position to learn and grow from one another.
[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]
One of the most famous psukim about the Torah is found in Parshat V’zot Ha’bracha:
תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב
Pretty straightforward concept that Hahsem commanded the Torah to Moshe. The ambiguous word is morasha — what exactly does that mean and why is Torah described in that way?
Morasha is usually translated as inheritance, legacy, province.
This passuk, written at the very end of the Torah, is discussed in detail in Medrash Rabbah in Terumah.
To give some context to the discussion of this passuk from another parsha within Parshat Terumah, it is important to note that Parshat Terumah is actually chronologically out of order, and to highlight why that might be: The collection for the Mishkan was a kaparah for the Eigel HaZahav. This atonement is therefore done afterthe Eigel in Parshat Ki Tissa. So Terumah is juxtaposed to Matan Torah for a reason…
The Ramban explains that building the Mishkan and the concept of the everyday rituals is a continuation of Har Sinai. We transition from grandiose experience of Sinai to the everyday observance of Halacha. Religion is not all fireworks and dramatic revelations.
So the Torah puts Terumah and the Mishkan here, right after Yitro and Mishpatim, to teach us about the different roles of Torah – the grand and the everyday.
Chazal, therefore, use this opportunity to invoke Torah tziva lanu Moshe, and teach us about another characteristic (or two) about the nature of Torah…
The Midrash says: Al tikri morasha, elah me’orasah =
Our relationship to Torah and Hashem is a marriage. The concept of a romantic, martial relationship with Torah and Hashem is found in many places.
In the same exact Midrash, it says on our passuk: “Al tikri morasha elah yerusha“…
So which one is it? Is Torah an inheritance or a marriage??
If anything, the concepts of an inheritance and a marriage are in opposition to one another – one is handed to you (unless you’re into the prearranged marriage thing, in which case both are handed to you); the other is a romantic pursuit, full of excitement and initiative!?!
The answer is that Torah encapsulates both. The Torah has been handed down to us (yerusha), but we also each find our own passionate chelek in Torah.
Speaking to the yerusha aspect: Part of religion is the wisdom to accept certain truths. We can’t self-intuit everything. We can’t say: I only believe in what I can rationally prove. Some things are handed down, and, as G-d fearing and believing Jews, we simply accept as true. To quote Rabbi Sacks, “faith is not a certainty; it is the courage to live with uncertainty.”
There is nothing intellectually weak or lacking by adhering to the concept that we cant know or prove everything.
Of course there is a tremendous amount of intellect and introspection demanded in Judaism as well – and that is the romantic piece; finding personal ways the Torah speaks to us, hopefully every day of our lives.
“Reishis chochmah yiras Hashem” – To be pious, you need to be intelligent; and to be intelligent you have to be wise enough to understand the limits of human intellect. That is the dual nature of our religion.
To further elaborate on the yerusha aspect, the Midrash brings a parable of a prince who is captured at a young age, and raised by barbarians. He returns to his kingdom after many years and isn’t shy about staking a claim to his rightful throne. The words in the Midrash are: “L’yerushas avosai ani chozeir” – I am returning to the inheritance of my forefathers.
The nimshal is that no matter how far you wander, you can come back and not be embarrassed. It is yours and you can always return.
Inheritance and romance are both necessary aspects of Torah and religion. The message to the most religious and least affiliated Jew is the same: recognize that you are grounded in Torah with a chelek elokah mima’al (“neshama sheh’nattata bi tehora hee” as we say every morning), and no matter how far we wander or how often we stumble, we cannot lose that anchoring.
Shabbat Shalom and a Gut Rosh Chodesh Adar.